At Odds in the Capitol

Before this trip, I never in my life had visited Washington D.C. In my mind, I had always envisioned a tireless, bustling city where decisions were made and changes were initiated. However, the DC I experienced was full of many intricacies that I did not expect. 

Seeing marginalization in the capital of the United States of America - leader of the free world and the land of opportunity- I couldn’t help but be shocked and discouraged. While I was in the Capitol, every single person I encountered who was working a service industry job was a black or brown person of color. While this may have been because we stayed in central DC, I do not believe that this is an excuse for the extreme disparity I saw. How can I expect to be accurately represented in the government when the capitol is one of the most marginalized places I have ever seen? For example, walking around the DuPont Circle and wandering around the National Mall, I heard passing conversations that were soaked with privilege. I heard people talking about how, once released from prison, people have a desire to commit crimes. I heard fellow PLEN students talking about how they wanted to work on gender and clean water issues in Africa. However, they were strongly opposed to actually living in the communities they wanted to help because they were afraid of experiencing these things. I heard panelists talk about “ending all poverty in Africa”, as if poverty was universally definable and Africa was a country.

But despite all this, the thing that inspired me most was the fellow PLEN women I met during the trip. I met strong, young, driven women of all colors, and all walks of life. Hearing their stories and their passions gave me hope that I couldn’t seem to find elsewhere. These women showed me that even though things in this country seem rough right now, a new generation of bright, young, and diverse minds are about ready to take on the world and make it a better place.

Furthermore, it reaffirmed the fact that I want to be a part of this group of women who are able to use their life experiences and build upon them as strengths rather than weaknesses. Especially in light of recent rhetoric coming from the current administration targeted at congresswomen of color, it shows me that the problem is deeper than I had imagined. However, people like the ones I met at PLEN are the ones who will make it better. During my trip to our nation’s capital, I got to know many new people who showed me new perspectives of viewing the world. I learned so much about the inner workings of the federal government and I came to many realizations. PLEN was able to introduce me to people who were working the job that I only dreamt of having and working on the issues I was passionate about. 

An abortion rights rally in front of the Supreme Court in DC.

During the seminar, it just so happened that the abortion rights rally was happening at the steps of the Supreme Court and I was lucky enough to take part in such a powerful demonstration in support of human rights. I got to see hoards of people of all colors, all genders, all religions, all ages, and all different walks of life, gather together to fight for something they believed in. And that means everything. 

On one of the days of the trip, the group had a chance to visit the Department of State, which is right by the Lincoln Memorial. During the lunch break that day, I was able to sit on the steps of the memorial and watch thousands of tourists gape in awe that the many monuments they saw to represent American democracy. This reminded me that no matter how bad we think things are, living in America is still a privilege not to be taken for granted. That billions of people around the world do not get to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. But this is not to say that the problems we face in this country do not matter when compared to others. At the abortion rally I saw the passion and strength of these people who were fighting for what is, undeniably a fundamental human right: a woman’s right to choose. 

The Lincoln Memorial at sunset

At the end of the trip, although it was not what I expected, I gained a much needed reality check and a much appreciated sense of hope. I returned home both frustrated and motivated in the work that needed to be done in this country, and really, what more could I ask for?

Cecily Ma is a junior at San Diego State University majoring in comparative international studies with minors in Chinese and political science. She attended the Women in Global Policy Seminar in 2019.

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